When I started what was to be, a 5 year back packing trip, Europe was certainly the hottest destination. But for me, it wasn’t just Europe. It was all about the East. East Europe!
Most the backpackers I had met in Australia/Asia tended to go and talk about places like Amsterdam, London, Paris and Barcelona. Yeah cool, but what about the East? And I’m not talking about places like Czech or Hungary. Now I could be completely wrong, and welcome to comment if I am, to me, East Europe is composed of the countries bordering Russia. Mainly the Baltic’s to the Balkans. Actually, I met almost no one that had been along the far eastern edges of Europe and that undiscovered lands, is where so much of the magic is.
FYI: My motivation behind this is that backpackers and tourist hear so much about those mainstream places. I love to write a few words about my favourite cities in Europe, and well, it’s probably going to be these cool undiscovered cities in the east!!! Cities like Minsk, Sofia, Talinn, Beograde, Kiev! Oh my so much fun!!!
Now today, we are talking about Sofia, Bulgaria. The country has a population of just over 7 million and its capital Sofia has has around 1.2 million. (www.wikitravel.org/en/Sofia). Bulgaria is a beautiful country for traveling, hiking, and fun. Getting amongst nature in winter (ski resorts in the southern mountains) and in summer (Sofia and the coastal towns especially Varna). I first arrived and traveled the country in spring, later visiting in Winter. I must say the country and in particularly the capital Sofia is one of the most delightful places on earth!
Now for those that don’t speak much English, fear not, the younger generation are taught English, although they rarely get the chance to practice. So if you meet those wanting and willing to practice English, you are bound to have fun. Particularly if a beer or music is involved.
A great starting point for making friends would be to access the Couch Surfers (CS) and other international groups that get together regularly. When I first arrived in Sofia I proceeded immediately to a CS meeting which proceeded to an outdoor party. After that, a local girl drove me back to my hostel at around 3am. Actually, I ended up doing that a lot!
I spent most afternoons and nights drinking and partying with different new friends; arriving home just before sunrise. It was great! I stayed mainly at an awesome hostel (I have a big write up about hostels here that you can check out if you like). There are a couple of great hostels actually and a lot of Eastern Europe tends to have some really funky places. Now at this hostel, for my stay, I would regularly sleep in till about 1pm. Trying to sleep through the noise of young backpackers was not always easy, they always seem to be unorganized and loud in the morning! However around lunch, I would normally awaken by local calling me to come out for brunch and recovery beers. Ahhh! What an amazing life!
If you don’t have the local connections, I can honestly say, you probably wouldn’t have half as much fun. But if you don’t have connections or the social confidence (I have an article here about Social Confidence) just grab a couple of bottles of beer and step into one of the parks in the afternoon. Beer is sold for roughly a US Dollar per liter in 1 to 3L bottles . Drinking in parks is allowed, socially acceptable and just part of the culture there. Try it, Love it, Living Lavida Sofia!
Sofia like all cities has a night club scene. Now I’m never a guy that goes to random bars to pick up women. So I’m not one to comment there. Honestly, it’s so much fun being with Bulgarians that although I used to be recognised as an expert with women, here, I was just blown away by the ability to meet up with local friends and share good stories over $1 per liter beer.
One of my best Bulgarian Friends Mihail was at the time creating a big website for Sofia tourism. He has since returned to working in a JOB. I’ll never forget when Mihail burrowed a family members car and drove our crew to the vineyards south east of Sofia. Our crew consisted of 2 x Bulgarians, 2 x Aussies, 1 x Cypriot. We stopped and visited a famous temple where a Monk discovered enlightenment (I thought this stuff only happened in Asia but I was wrong). We went on a bit further to a wine area where we ended up in a cave which was used as a cellar. Returning after a couple of glasses to Sofia with a few bottles of the preservative free, organic Bulgarian wine.
FYI: One of the few other cities I’ve had this much fun is Cebu Philippines. This city is a call centre hub, so friends in that industry would often call up in the early morning to join them in early morning/day drinking with beer about the same price as Bulgaria. However Sofia, Minsk Belarus, Toulouse France, Tartu Estonia or Kiev Ukraine would get my vote for the 5 funnest cities in Europe.
Danger…Eastern Europe tends to suffer from corruption. You have to be a street smart in all cities. DO NOT DRINK TOO MUCH anywhere! It doesn’t matter where you are; if you’re too drunk, things can easily go wrong. Chances of getting robbed increase dramatically with alcohol content and displays of valuable cameras, iPhones, etc. Chances are greatly reduced by having small money, looking a little local, being friendly or smiling, not being an easy target or loud mouth. Besides, always know when to walk the other way….. and run!
By the way, I was joking by that run comment. I never had problems in Bulgaria, however some loud mouth drunken backpackers at the hostel did. With Mihail, Yana and awesome Bulgarian friends, it’s bound to be one of your favourite cities in Europe too!
Cool Undiscovered Cities: Eastern Europe, Sofia
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